January 6, 2011

"I suffered through Huckleberry Finn in high school, with the white kids going out of their way..."

"... to say 'Nigger Jim' and the teacher’s tortured explanation that Twain’s 'nigger' didn’t really mean nigger, or meant it ironically, or historically, or symbolically. Whatever. I could live my whole life fine if I never read that book again. If some teachers have the audacity to believe that Mark Twain’s work is still meaningful, even absent the words 'nigger' and 'injun,' more power to them. If other teachers think keeping those epitaphs in is worth the pain they will cause students of color, I understand that too. This isn’t about censorship, it’s about choice. Either choice will have unfortunate consequences."

From the law professor's contribution to the series of essays in the NYT on an edition of "Huckleberry Finn" without the n-word. There are 11 essays total. (The lawprof is Paul Butler of George Washington University.)

I must say that I think there should be an edition with the offensive words removed. It's not as though the uncensored versions disappear as a result of its existence. If you think seeing those words is crucial to understanding the book, that's fine, but not everyone does, and there's also the opinion that it's detrimental, as Professor Butler explains very well. I think high school and middle school students are inclined to dislike anything you impose on them. They might be more interested in Mark Twain if they knew the teachers were pushing the censored version and an uncensored version is accessible — like porn — through the internet. Here, kids, you can get right to it, the instant you want.

UPDATE: "keeping those epitaphs in..." Hey, NYT! Can we get a word editor?!

UPDATE 2: The NYT heard my plea and corrected "epitaphs" to "epithets."

172 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

This is bullshit. That "pain" the black kids are experiencing is because y'alls so fucked up over race, you can't explain it to anyone in a fashion that can do anything but exacerbate it.

White liberals have made it so the KKK has won:

Causing blacks pain from merely reading a book.

Great job.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Maybe if they bothered explaining the context of the times, they would not have to change anything.

Will they also change the text of anything from the 60's and 70's with anti-white slurs?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

It is a novel that was written at a certain point in our history when cultural values were different.

Are we supposed to remove and erase the cultural and historical aspects of every novel that might offend our current modern tender sensibilities.....or should we read the book and try to understand the history and make relevant comparisons to the differences that we have now. Compare the society of Twain's times to the progress and differences that we have now.

Pretending that the past didn't happen, no matter how distateful some parts of it may be, is not going to gain us anything.

Putting our heads in the sand and whitewashing history, like Tom Sawyer whitwashed the fence is .....just...plain....stupid.

If someone is offended by the past....tough shit.

shoutingthomas said...

Crack, I was going to say something.

But, now I don't need to.

You said it all.

chickelit said...

I suffered through Huckleberry Finn in high school, with white kids going out of their way...
~ Paul Butler, Professor of Law at George Washington University and the author of “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice.”

Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me you see, straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain, mother fuck him and John Wayne.

Chuck D in "Fight The Power"

Expat(ish) said...

One of my kids had to read The Color Purple in school - many instances of the N-word, "mammy", "uncle" and other insulting phrases. Not sure in the I-word was used.

I guess they'll censor that too?

_XC

Coketown said...

In American history, I was always uncomfortable when we discussed white men enslaving blacks. The Asian and black students always went out of their way to stress this fact. This, also, should be scrubbed from our national conscience. History should be approached in a sensitive, worry-free fashion without references to nigger-Jims and slavery.

In all seriousness, I think the satire and insight of Huck Finn is lost on high schoolers and should not be read for that reason. Sort of like Animal Farm.

Hoosier Daddy said...

One of my schoolmates told me a Pollack joke once.

Once.

Ann Althouse said...

"That "pain" the black kids are experiencing is because y'alls so fucked up over race, you can't explain it to anyone in a fashion that can do anything but exacerbate it."

Then why is it bullshit? How is a run-of-the-mill white teacher supposed to do a good job of teaching "Huckleberry Finn"? Is she going to do better with the word in or out? With a censored edition available, she can make the choice. Why is that wrong?

I mean, you're point is that white people are pathetic about race, so what's the next step for an ordinary high school? It's certainly not obvious that saying the n-word more often is definitely the way to go.

Rialby said...

We've always been at war with Eastasia.

shoutingthomas said...

How about a new rule:

You no longer get ten points for claiming that something wounds your incredible sensitivity.

Instead, you get ten demerits and a kick in the nuts.

Expat(ish) said...

@Hoosier - I hate spotty kids.

Ann Althouse said...

"she can make the choice"

I mean the school district can make the choice.

Scott M said...

What's a tad ironic is that a good teacher could take this as a chance to teach kids about political correctness and it's impact on our culture. I believe it would be very difficult, but not impossible, to teach about PC (not about Twain) without injecting even a minimal amount of subjectivity.

You would have to almost build the entire session around asking questions, wouldn't you? PC debates are a bit like quantum physics. Merely making observations changes the outcome.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Is she going to do better with the word in or out? With a censored edition available, she can make the choice. Why is that wrong?

Have you READ the book?

Because.... Huck's use of the word Nigger and Injun were a part of the culture of the times which he uncritically accepted....UNTIL Huck spent a lot of time with Jim and began to see him as not just a black man (using the painful word Nigger)who was less than human as the society at that time was wont to do, less than even Huck who was pretty low on the social scale at the time as well..... but as a human being and a friend.

Without the offensive word and without the attending attitudes of whites towards blacks at the time, the impact of the book and the growth of Huck as a human makes no sense.

You lose the entire impact of the book and the reason that Twain wrote it in the first place if you emasculate it.
That's why!!

DADvocate said...

Prof. Butler sounds like the usual liberal cry baby. Can he verify he's not lying? After all, he is a lawyer and his lips were moving.

They might be more interested in Mark Twain if they knew the teachers were pushing the censored version and an uncensored version is accessible...

Uh, no. Just more of trying to make everything sunshine and lollipops. The real world is unpleasant sometimes. Learn to deal with it. I suffered through high school, period. Hated it, but I'm not advocating doing away with it.

ricpic said...

I think that knowing that you are disliked or hated by some simply because of who you are toughens a person up. Which is a good thing. In fact sensitivity to offensive language is a sign of weakness. So you're hated by some, the overwhelming majority are indifferent to you and you are loved by a tiny number. That's reality and it sure won't go away by being suppressed or denied. Get over yourself. Get real.

shoutingthomas said...

Uh, no. Just more of trying to make everything sunshine and lollipops. The real world is unpleasant sometimes. Learn to deal with it. I suffered through high school, period. Hated it, but I'm not advocating doing away with it.

Unforgiven actually stated this as succinctly as possible.

Remember, Clint is drinking on the hill and getting ready to go into town to gun down Little Bill? The Scofield Kid complains that he doesn't deserve his wretched fate,and Clint answers:

"We've all got it coming, kid."

Greatest moment in the history of movies.

Megaera said...

I'll accept that these people are genuinely distressed about this word when they universally attack and and censor its use by every black artist since the Civil War. Try telling me "it's a black thang?" Tough. Traumatically offensive is traumatically offensive. If this goofy professor twists off about hearing Nigger Jim, how can he live in a universe with rap? This is PC piffle.

ricpic said...

What's wrong with a joke about Jackson Pollack?

Salamandyr said...

I have not seen enough to know if I approve of this particular edition or not. I can't approve of it at all, if the book is not prefaced with an explanation of exactly what was done, and how this is not the "real" book, but one designed to be palatable for younger readers.

Huckleberry Finn, absent the racial words, is very good as a juvenile, something for 10 to 13 year olds who have outgrown Tom Sawyer. However, because of the language issue, it really can't be taught at lower than a high school level, where the students have otherwise outgrown the material.

There is a long history of "children's editions" of great books, with simplified word choice, and simpler, less traumatic storylines, for younger audiences, not ready for the real thing. The great crime of Bowdlerization wasn't that it created children's versions, it's that it tried to supplant the original works.

If the cleaned up version of Huck Finn isn't trying to do that, than I for one don't see what the big deal is.

Lincolntf said...

If we hadn't spent the last thirty-plus years imbuing the word with mystical power, maybe we wouldn't have to choose between rewriting classic literature and educating our children. The "PC" movement has destroyed more young brains than any drug.

Sixty Grit said...

Epitaphs - n-word please!

rhhardin said...

We read The Human Comedy without the whorehouse chapter, in high school long ago.

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann,

Why is it bullshit?

Because, just like here on your blog, you're *actively* resisting any attempt at changing your own thinking on the subject.

It's certainly not obvious that saying the n-word more often is definitely the way to go.

But re-writing classic American novels is?

I swear, liberals are dangerous.

I've got to go to work - ST, maybe you can address what "a run-of-the-mill white teacher" (or - tee-hee - a "typical white person") should do. For me, that would require a bloggingheads and Ann won't do that with me.

Racist. LOL!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

In addition Huck is a metaphor for the changing attitudes of society at the time.

Even though the novel is set in pre Civil War times, Twain was portraying the growth of Huck and his acceptance of Jim as representative of the changing status Blacks in post Civil War US, especially in the attitudes of the poor whites, who Huck represented. These societal changes didn't happen overnight and the resistance to change was very strong in certain elements of the population and in certain geographic areas.

To remove all of this makes the book meaningless.

You might just as well have the students watch Homer Simpson instead if you gut the meat out of Twain's works.

School is a waste of time anymore....don't make it more so by ruining good and relevant literature in the name of (ptooey) political correctness.

Bill Harshaw said...

"epitaphs"? "epitaphs"? A law professor who nodded, and another who failed to [sic] the quote?

exhelodrvr1 said...

DBQ,
Agree totally - the book is actually a beautiful illustration of people getting past race, even in a society where it was a huge factor. It should be celebrated because of that; hard to see how anyone can't comprehend that.

Sofa King said...

If the cleaned up version of Huck Finn isn't trying to do that, than I for one don't see what the big deal is.

But of course it is. It is trying to become the default choice for what is likely to be the only time the kids who are compelled to read it, will read it. The *existence* of the unexpurgated version does not counteract the reality that the vast majority of people who will have read it, will have read the bowdlerization, thus it will supplant the original almost entirely *de facto.*

Salamandyr said...

As an aside...I saw reference to how Huck Finn is one of the most commonly "banned books" in America.

What does that mean exactly, "banned"? Is it one commonly chosen not to teach? Is it one kept off shelves in school libraries? When you can go out and buy it at any bookstore, how exactly is it "banned"?

John Lynch said...

Kids don't listen to music?

I read a lot of books in school with bad words. I guess it's OK if it's not written by a dead white man.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Huckleberry Finn, absent the racial words, is very good as a juvenile, something for 10 to 13 year olds who have outgrown Tom Sawyer. However, because of the language issue, it really can't be taught at lower than a high school level, where the students have otherwise outgrown the material.

The book was not really written as a children's book. The concepts of freedom, slavery, and even feminism are not suited to children's levels of learning and should properly be taught in a High School setting so that the students can discuss and LEARN from the book.

Disclaimer. I let my daughter read The Color Purple at the age of 11 because she was able to grasp the concepts and we had much discussion about the book and the history behind it. We later went together and saw the movie.

I do not believe in hiding things from children and I resent that the Liberals want to treat us all like children who can handle difficult concepts or unpleasant realities.

Grow UP!

Richard Dolan said...

This may be one situation in which the SCOTUS' prediction that special measures of this sort will all become unnecessary in 25 years or so seems right. As they say, if this is what the fight is about, then there isn't all that much being fought over.

w/v: unnedro. An anti-n word of sorts.

john bord said...

One person in this debate has not be consulted, the author. Wonder how mad Sam Clemmens would be, messing with his book. If it was my book, I would be outraged.

I look at the language of other books and in most of the pop ones today are a variety of words one could choose and pick, call them offensive, racist or your choice.

Then there is the art form, what right do people have to change another's work?

Then there is the basic American question.... choice. what are my choices, what are theirs. I goes to eliminating choices and imposing moral values on another.

Last point..... how long do people want to stay in the role of victim?

chickelit said...

Last point..... how long do people want to stay in the role of victim?

For as long as they're rewarded I imagine.

Hagar said...

"The African-American of the Narcissus" is bullshit, as Crack says, and that is putting it politely.
This is just about mostly lily-white glibberals enforcing political correctness to establish who have the longest and stiffest and can pee the farthest.

Incidentally, "polack" is just the German word for Pole, also used in the Scandinavian languages and possibly others, and there is nothing derogative about it.

Quasimodo said...

if the pain from hearing or reading "the N word" were real, then there would be no Rap music and one quarter of the urban vocabulary would evaporate

it's a pose

Chip Ahoy said...

Here lie the malapropisms of the New York Times. Epithets epitaphs, what the heck, it rhymes.

Salamandyr said...

Huckleberry Finn is in the public domain. There are, and will continue to be, other editions.

ted said...

walk thru any urban area in this country and you will hear spoken, "hey get your nigger ass..." "where you been, Nigger" or a hundred other variants of it.

Walk into a synagogue and you won't ever hear 'kike' or Chinatown the teens aren't calling each other 'slopes' or how about down South, are the white guys calling themselves "crackers'. All are offensive.

Words have meanings. If lone group of people can use a word freely than its not all that terrible.

If we are going to start calling people racists I suggest we start with the ones using the word in question so freely.

DADvocate said...

Compare Prof. Butler's attitude to that of Walter E. Williams in an interview this morning. No crying here.

Coketown said...

Stop the presses! It nearly escaped my memory, but alas I remembered: The word nigger has no power anymore. The NAACP buried it in Detroit in 2007: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19680493/ns/us_news-life/

Let it rest. Quit having an annual seance. It's just a word, like applesauce, recliner, nefarious, faggot, teacup, cunt, incredulous, or pine are words.

Hagar said...

Ah, DBQ,
"The Simpsons" have much worse stuff in it than anything Twain ever wrote, not to mention "Family Guy" or, horrors!, "South Park.".

c3 said...

Dick Gregory is next

Just 'nother example of the man....

miller said...

I personally cannot use the "n-word" in public or private. It's been pressed into me how bad this word is.

However, it is in literature, and it should be read as-is. If I were reading this aloud, I would use the n-word and the i-word and any other word the author used - or I would not read the work at all.

Getting rid of the n-word because some are offended is simply wrong. Go ahead and edit it out, but don't call it "Mark Twain." Call it what it is: "Safe and inoffensive chewing gum."

miller said...

Really.

Just don't use the damn book if it so offends you, and MISS the significant message it's trying to say.

I mean, c'mon. Mark Twain used the word deliberately as part of the text, for a reason. You should ask yourself "what was he trying to say by using this word which so alarms us & causes us to clutch our pearls?"

Drew said...

I got the sense that publication of "The N-Word of the Narcissus" was intended mainly as a jab at the "white guilt" that drives political correctness. The publisher's description of the book kinda reveals his hand:

WordBridge Publishing has performed a public service in putting Joseph Conrad's neglected classic into a form accessible to modern readers. This new version addresses the reason for its neglect: the profusion of the so-called n-word throughout its pages. Hence, the introduction of "n-word" throughout the text, to remove this offence to modern sensibilities. The N-word of the Narcissus tells the tale of a fateful voyage of a British sailing ship, and on that voyage the ability of a lone black man to take the crew hostage. The ability of this man to manipulate an entire ship's crew can no longer be seen as a mere exercise in storytelling. Conrad in fact appears to have been the first to highlight the phenomenon of manipulation based in white guilt.


wv: fliesall. This flies all in the face of reason.

LordSomber said...

Mark Bauerlein's point nails it for me:

"[Frederick] Douglass understood that dignity can endure even at the bottom of a slave society no matter the abuse. Twain did, too, showing that in spite of all the cruelty and the racial epithets, Jim remains the noble figure in the novel. Take away the insult and we lose the full measure of his character."

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/01/05/does-one-word-change-huckleberry-finn/what-would-frederick-douglass-say-about-huckleberry-finn

BTW Ms. Althouse, are you familiear with the new InsideAcademia.tv.?
Bloggingheads for academics.

DADvocate said...

We read The Human Comedy without the whorehouse chapter, in high school long ago.

How many read on the "Gulliver's Travels" and only read about the land of the Lilliputians. It turns the book from a serious intellectual endeavor to a children's story.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Incidentally, "polack" is just the German word for Pole, also used in the Scandinavian languages and possibly others, and there is nothing derogative about it.

Well my grandparents didn't have nice things to say about the sausage eaters which is why I always thought bastard and kraut was a compound word.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Ah, DBQ,
"The Simpsons" have much worse stuff in it than anything Twain ever wrote, not to mention "Family Guy" or, horrors!, "South Park.".


SNL or MAD TV have much worse than the video that Commander Honors made but he still got canned anyway.

Drew said...

Bloggingheads for academics.

That sounds dreadful. Who do they expect to watch?

William said...

The King James Version of the Bible is one of the high water marks of English literature. Nonetheless, if you are a preacher and you do not wish the eyes of your congregation to glaze over, you would be well advised quote from the newer, more comprehensible editions when you preach your sermons. We should show Twain the same disrespect we show the Bible and use the most accessible version.......I wonder if any here have actually read Twain's book. It's part whiz bang adventure story, but the scene on the river where Huck struggles with his conscience and decides to help free Jim is why Twain is in the pantheon of great American writers. And what to make of the fact that the natural current of the river is carrying them further south, deeper, as it were, into slavery? Then there's the final part where Tom Sawyer keeps Jim in captivity just for the fun of it. Twain said that anyone trying to wring a moral out of his book should be hanged. He got that right. There's no moral to be had, and, if the teachers find one, it is of their own invention.....Incidentally, the worst part of slavery was not the burden of being called the n word. Jim's servitude is very light indeed compared to the actual conditions of slavery at that time. The book is, thus, already a kind of bowlderization.

Skyler said...

I always say, if we didn't have public schools, 80% of the controversies in politics would evaporate.

Don't want to read Huck Finn? Send your kid to a school that doesn't teach it. I'll send mine to a school that doesn't freak out if a kid carries a pocket knife.

Peter said...

Just so we're clear...

"Nigger Jim" is not the character Jim's name.

No one in the entire novel refers to this character as "Nigger Jim." Huck doesn't; Tom doesn't; the King and Duke don't. If Paul Butler's classmates were using that name, they did so of their own accord. They were not quoting the book.

In fact the two-word phrase "nigger Jim" only appears once in Twain's novel -- in the note that Huck writes to Miss Watson, which would return Jim to slavery:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN

Less than half a page later, Huck destroys this note: "'All right, then, I'll go to hell' -- and tore it up."

But this point is equally important: Twain wanted that word, "nigger," to hurt. He wanted it to sting.

"Nigger" was not a word used in polite company in 1884 New England, and some fold asked Twain to refrain from reading sections of his book with the n-word during public appearances. Twain ignored these requests, if I recall correctly. He wanted to rub *everyone's* noses in it -- call into question everyone's moral certainty.

This may explain why Twain will often use the n-word more liberally right around moments of apparent moral uplift and development from Huck.

Indeed, just after he proclaims his willingness to "go to hell" for his friend, Huck is forces back on shore, where he is forces to use the n-word as frequently and nauseatingly as anywhere else in the novel:

"I wouldn't shake my nigger, would I? -- the only nigger I had in the world, and the only property? . . . He was my nigger, and that was my money. Where is he? -- I want my nigger."

Any teacher who doesn't make that word HURT -- or at least pinch -- isn't doing his or her job. Any teacher who does not see the danger in giving white students the license to use that word is dangerously stupid. (Twain did not write the book to reflect the times of the 1840s; he did it to challenge the times of the 1880s. "Nigger" was one of those challenges.)

And any reader who calls one of the most humane characters in American literature "Nigger Jim" isn't doing his job either.

bgates said...

I'm offended the book title hasn't been changed to Huckleberry Suomalainen.

Blatant Anglocentrist ethnosupremacy, if you ask me.

jamboree said...

I love the character of Huck Finn - who in my childhood view took it into his own hands to escape his situation and attempt to live in freedom even though he was only about 11. I remember Jim as his co-conspirator in escape to freedom, if you will. In hindsight I saw it as subversive in that way that only kids can enjoy - like Harry Potter not being a powerless kid in a terrible family situation, but actually being a wizard that his terrible family didn't recognize - classic tale of the runaway having an adventure.

Of course, I didn't have to read it in school - school readings take all the fun out of everything since you have to read it in the company of a teacher and every asshole in class :-)

DanielOB said...

When I was a little boy I read and re-read Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer. Can't say I ever got excited about all those N words. It was the idea encompassed in the story of Huck & Jim rolling on the river that meant freedom to me as a little boy living under the strict rules of Mom/Dad. I do remember the story of how Jim was grateful to the others for sitting w/him and having dinner. Jim came across to me as someone who had above average IQ. In retrospect a revolutionary idea in those anti-bellum days. Mark Twain was one of my heroes as a lttle boy. What a shame to re-write this classic. Come on America chill-out!

Peter said...

James Baldwin: "You're the nigger, baby. It isn't me."

kimsch said...

Megaera ( 1/6/11 1:10 PM) said...

I'll accept that these people are genuinely distressed about this word when they universally attack and and censor its use by every black artist since the Civil War. Try telling me "it's a black thang?" Tough. Traumatically offensive is traumatically offensive. If this goofy professor twists off about hearing Nigger Jim, how can he live in a universe with rap? This is PC piffle.


Hear! Hear! You said it well.

wv: pheant

DanielOB said...

Or should I say gilded age days. It was published in the 1880' I believe.

phx said...

If you feel you can't teach it, the way it is then don't teach it - teach something else. I can understand that.
I don't favor bowdlerizing Shakespeare either. And I don't much like abridged literature.
What kind of literary pussies are we going to be raising?

Pete said...

Old Liberals die hard. Mustn't upset black children because that's all they are: children. Never mind the horridness hurled at them from other sources of culture which they and others readily accept. It's this written word that must be changed, else someone's feelings might get hurt.

Yet another subject of which Althouse will refuse to changer her mind.

Michael said...

Well. What should we do with Joseph Conrad's "Nigger of the Narcissus?" What should we do with Wallace Stevens' "Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery?" What should we do with Dick Gregory's autobiography "Nigger?"

And no one here, including the professor, appears to be offended by the "injun" spelling of Indian. I mean, really, are you going to go all in PC or are you not?

I would suggest that the little children who are bothered by the word not read the book. In fact be obliged to read three books by Maya Angelou.

traditionalguy said...

I just want to know how people will find out what the "N" word is after it has been censored in literature from the 1880s.

J said...

when in doubt, Tipper Gore-it: Put a warning label on Huck Finn. WARNING, this book has n-word, etc
Or just allow the academic wheezebags to explain the historical context, so forth.

That said, Huck Finn's probably not suitable for modern high schools ---not only because of the n-word, but the dialect itself was old hick slang for the most part. RUstic. It's not a bad book but.......raw.

MadisonMan said...

If Paul Butler's school had not assigned Huck Finn as a novel to read, would he have been picked on/made fun of for some other thing?

I'd say yes.

Correlation is not causation. Huck Finn did not cause the pain.

blake said...

Althouse's reaction is as predictable as her voting for Obama. Endearing, even. Deep down, she's still that late '60s hippie chick.

On another note? I'd pay $50 to see her and Crack on BHTV. Who's with me?

Scott M said...

The original version will continue to be under fire in this manner as long as we have little league sports teams that aren't allowed to keep score during games.

blake said...

My great-grandma would see a black kid and say "Look at the cute little nigger girl!"

Wait--are we allowed to say that here?

Oh, well, if Twain can be censored, I guess I can too.

Anyway, she said it with no rancor or malice at all. I think it's just the word that they used out there in the wilds of Nebraska.

With kids today, I would think the eye-opening thing would be the use of the word with the intent to demean. You hear about it? But how many of them see that, relative to the number of times it's bandied about casually?

They don't even get the history of what they're being subjected to, much less the history of the history!

reader_iam said...

Peter: Your comment made me want to stand and cheer.

tim maguire said...

I'm betting every single one of these sensitive pro-censorship "for the children" types is a Lenny Bruce fan.

And they've heard the bit I'm thinking of.

And laughed at the obvious truth of it when they heard it.

Idiots.

Michael said...

We note the silence regarding the abundant use of the word in popular music aimed at and embraced by the very audience with which we are so concerned.

We have lost our minds.

Beth said...

Twain was an abolitionist. It's likely true that Twain didn't shape the characters of Huck and Jim with black readers in mind, but Huck's slow epiphany can be a meaningful journey for white readers. I know it was for me, when I read it as an adolescent growing up in the South. DBQ describes the theme correctly, and that's all an average white teacher needs to do to make reading the book meaningful. The very idea that we can just go back and edit works of art stupifies me.

Lem said...

All this reverence and worship of a word is like the Taliban and their worship of Allah.. nobody is allowed to draw a depiction.. not even a cartoon.

Jenner said...

Do we not yet understand that it's just a word?! It only has the power that you give it. Times have changed: white people CANNOT say that word for any reason whatsoever, black people CAN use the word for any reason, and most frequently do as a badge of honor. Just stop it already!

I can't believe you think giving teachers a choice is appropriate. Should they also have a choice to teach history that has been written with "sensitivity" in mind? Or should we expect them to teach it as honestly as possible?

Unbelievable. Shouldn't our teachers be expected to create an amazing teaching experience out of this, instead of just saying "well if they aren't good teachers, they'll mess it up"?

If this is a good idea for Mark Twain's writings, there's a lot of work ahead to scrub the rest of those offensive books.

chickelit said...

On another note? I'd pay $50 to see her and Crack on BHTV. Who's with me?

I'd go as high as $25 but no higher.
C.O.D.

chickelit said...

@blake

We could always hold an auction.

Smilin' Jack said...

I must say that I think there should be an edition with the offensive words removed.

I agree. One of the most important things a child can learn in school is that the world is full of idiots.

Gene said...

There's no need to have a bowderized version of Huckleberry Finn. The only people offended by Twain's use of the n-word are professional victimologists and people for whom political correctness is a household god.

My wife has been teaching Huckleberry Finn to AP classes for at least 15 years. In her experience Twain's use of the n-word is not a issue for students (or their parents). It's other adults (especially ones with an agenda) who have the problem.

murgatroyd666 said...

Modern technology gives us the solution that should be acceptable to everyone: the e-book.

Give each student a Kindle Reader (or its equivalent) with special scholastic software to block out words that the teacher or the student's parents decide are offensive -- no substitution of a less offensive word, just ☠☠☠☠☠☠ where the word would have been, to indicate the censorship. Students with braver teachers or parents can read the same file in its unaltered, original form.

Then afterwards the students can put on their Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses so they don't have to face any dangers in the real world.

cubanbob said...

"
I must say that I think there should be an edition with the offensive words removed. It's not as though the uncensored versions disappear as a result of its existence. If you think seeing those words is crucial to understanding the book, that's fine, but not everyone does, and there's also the opinion that it's detrimental, as Professor Butler explains very well. "

Coke and Diet Coke. Similar but not the same. If all you have ever drunk was Diet Coke you realy have no idea what a Coke tastes like.

rhhardin said...

I read Huckleberry Finn so long ago that Nigger Jim had no social effect at all, which is certainly the way it was when written.

It hadn't acquired a redneck bigot association; it meant southern dialect.

It's more useful for it to be offensive, is why it's offensive.

Figuring out who is being put down by who now is more difficult.

Its effect in now being offensive is mostly aimed at keeping blacks on the outside.

Compare how offended white people are by any term you can think of for white people, which is not offended at all. At most amused.

Lem said...

Its all about context.. The message is either we have no time for a key ingredient in human understanding, context... or we believe black kids are too stupid and too fragile..

I've read Althouse well thought out complaints about a certain kind of feminism that purports to empower women by making them victims.

Why cant she see a parallel here?I'm very disapointed professor.

phx said...

No way to changing it - you can't change literature to suit your needs. You can, but what the hell is that?

But some people aren't thinking how really uncomfortable this can get in a classroom of fifteen and sixteen year olds. One or two of them black, maybe the rest of them white.

I met teachers who didn't want to teach the book for that reason. Some English teachers shouldn't be teaching English let alone race relations.

Why do people find it necessary to teach this book in high school? The canon is sacred enough not to mess with the text for fear of offending, but it's not so sacred that it MUST be taught in every high school.

Kirk Parker said...

Shouting,

Great moment indeed, but doesn't the Kid say "Well, he had it coming to him"? The reply makes a lot more sense in that context.

Blake,

$50 is way, way too much for any bhtv, no matter who, but I'd sure pay $5 if they promised a good performance! Surely they could attract a couple hundred paying performers at that level and make it worthwhile...

Fernandinande said...

He is the author of “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice.”

Another Affirmative Action star, burning every so brightly.

Scott M said...

Compare how offended white people are by any term you can think of for white people, which is not offended at all. At most amused.

What gets the ire up isn't a term or word being thrown at white people by a non-white with the intention of offending. In that case, you're right, it's usually amusing.

What gets the ire up is the cognitive association between someone who belongs to a class/race/whatever that PC says it's a sin to offend trying to offend those PC holds in thrall. This pisses me off because double-standards really piss me off and always have.

The "offensive" words you would hurl at a white person, for the most part, have no power and have never been made to be so outside 70's blacksploitation flicks.

If you really want to piss off a white person, really the only effective loaded word is racist but even that is loosing it's power.

Ann Althouse said...

Has Crack ever once put up a video *of himself* talking about his issues? I never do bloggingheads with someone I haven't seen in verbal action. Crack confines himself to music and writing. I have no idea what he would be like in a dialogue. Talking about him doing bloggingheads with me gets nowhere without that first step.

Blair said...

The King James Version of the Bible is one of the high water marks of English literature. Nonetheless, if you are a preacher and you do not wish the eyes of your congregation to glaze over, you would be well advised quote from the newer, more comprehensible editions when you preach your sermons. We should show Twain the same disrespect we show the Bible and use the most accessible version

Uhhh... you do know that the Bible is written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, right?

The KJV was a translation into English as spoken at that time. Modern translations (such as the NIV) work from the original manuscripts and translate into modern English. You're not disrespecting the KJV by reading the NIV, any more than you are disrespecting the Swahili translation of War and Peace by reading the English one.

What these people are doing with Twain is the equivalent of a paraphrase Bible, which would have been a better analogy. In both cases, we have to ask "does the paraphrase convey accurately the intent of the original text?" In Twain's case, I would say the answer is no. You need the word nigger in there to properly convey what Twain was trying to convey.

Revenant said...

What these people are doing with Twain is the equivalent of a paraphrase Bible, which would have been a better analogy.

Such as paraphrasing "young woman" as "virgin" when translating Hebrew into Greek and Latin. :)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The very idea that we can just go back and edit works of art stupifies me.

Truly Beth.

It is like painting long johns on the paintings on the Sistine Chapel. Putting a sweater on the Venus D'Milo. Putting a fig leaf on Michelangelo's David...oh...wait...we did do that.

Shall we go back to putting skirts on table legs like the Victorians to keep from having the vapors?

A good teacher, and I suspect that you are one, will be able to deal with the words and concepts in Huck Finn and make the book not only interesting to the students, but relevant.

edutcher said...

Considering the n-word is used by black people all the time, this absolute nonsense. This is for the benefit of the Useless Idiots who send their kids to places like Haavahd.

When some Lefty wants to excise the dirty parts (because that might offend someone) in "Catcher in the Rye" or "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (incredibly boring, BTW), let me know.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Is she going to do better with the word in or out? With a censored edition available, she can make the choice. Why is that wrong?

Have you READ the book?

Because.... Huck's use of the word Nigger and Injun were a part of the culture of the times which he uncritically accepted....UNTIL Huck spent a lot of time with Jim and began to see him as not just a black man (using the painful word Nigger)who was less than human as the society at that time was wont to do, less than even Huck who was pretty low on the social scale at the time as well..... but as a human being and a friend.


Precisely. Jim is the only real man in the book, with the possible exception of Colonel Sherburne. All the other white men are worthless, one way or another. It's Jim who teaches Huck what it means to be a man and how to be one.

Use of the n-word emphasizes that; though he's at the bottom of the social scale, he's still head and shoulders above the white men.

Not unlike Mr Kipling's

Though I've belted you and flayed you,
By the Living God that made you,
You're a better man than I am,
Gunga Din

Beth said...

This essay makes the point that we should not mistake Twain's view of Jim with Huck's. It also includes some good critical references.

Roger J. said...

Blake: enjoyed your anecdote about your grandmother--growing up in the segregated american south I really wasnt aware that "nigger" was offensive--its what white MEN used. My lady who grew up in the Mississippi delta (the most southern place on earth) reminds me that southern women never used nigger. I dont know how to put any of that in context, however--

I confess to not understanding Ms Althouse's aversion to the word "nigger" when other ethnic slurs are thrown about with abandon (eg, progressive jews?), but ultimately it is her blog and she may edit it is as chooses. Her sensitivities, however,have no effect on how I think (other than to wonder perhaps how she thinks). I will use what words I choose to use and apply those words to the appropriate setting.
Bowlderizing Huck Finn, as I think Beth and others point out does damage to the thought in the original work. But thats just my opinion and I really dont give a damn what others may think.

Roger J. said...

edutcher: thank you for mentioning Kipling--the epitome of the white man's burden--but it is clear that Mr Kipling had a deeper understanding of humanity than a cursory reading of his works might suggest: "east is east, west is west etc." "when I was in inja's sunny clime a-serving her her majesty the queen..." a great poet.

Revenant said...

The very idea that we can just go back and edit works of art stupifies me.

We've been doing it for thousands of years. Why is it shocking?

Honestly, now. Practically every production of a Shakespeare play makes changes to it -- Hamlet, for example, is regularly put on with entire *scenes* struck from the script. Old films are regularly released with "lost footage" edited in, sometimes to good effect, sometimes to bad. Abridged versions of classic novels are for sale in every bookstore (let's face it, Charles Dickens was paid by the word).

For that matter, if you check Amazon you'll see that there are multiple versions of Huckleberry Finn already in print that differ from Twain's original published text. For example, there's one that edits out some of the dippy Tom Sawyer stuff at the end, but restores the river-rafting chapter that Twain originally pulled out and put into "Life on the Mississippi".

Trooper York said...

Ann Althouse said...
Has Crack ever once put up a video *of himself* talking about his issues? I never do bloggingheads with someone I haven't seen in verbal action. Crack confines himself to music and writing. I have no idea what he would be like in a dialogue. Talking about him doing bloggingheads with me gets nowhere without that first step.

Crack. don't do it buddy. You never want to be on boring heads. It will kill your career. You would lose all your street cred.

Besides that place is a cult. It has to be. There is no other logical explaination for it.

Roger J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger J. said...

Ugh--I butchered the Kipling quote: When I was in Inja's sunny clime where I used to spend me time a serving of her Majesty the Queen..." Apologies to Mr Kipling

Christy said...

The danger of a well endorsed bowdlerized version is that it will be impossible for any teacher, or school system to use the original. Anyone teaching the original version will be deemed racist and we all know there is absolutely no defense against the accusation of being racist. After all, the clean version will be just as good, so say they all.

Hey! Would Negro Jim be acceptable? "Negro" was what I was taught to use as a kid.

Big Mike said...

Is there any ethnic group in American that hasn't been on the receiving end of epithets? Even "Preppie" and "WASP" are meant to be derogatory.

Revenant said...

Anyone teaching the original version will be deemed racist and we all know there is absolutely no defense against the accusation of being racist.

I've always found that rolling my eyes serves as an effective rebuttal.

Shanna said...

So are they going to delete the part in Native Son where the guy killed that girl, and then chopped her up and stuffed her in a furnace? Because that really freaked me out in high school.

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rsb said...

A new and improved Huck Finn by the thought police. What a great idea. Publishers will love this too. Think of the possibilities.

Matt said...

Paul Butler is really ignorant. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic that should be read as it was written. Anyone with half a brain knows this.

I find it interesting that some here think it is liberals and leftists who want to censor books. That is not my experience. Sure, liberals tend to be politically correct at times but so are many right wing Christians who find sex or bad language [or weird stuff like in Harry Potter!] in books [and film] to be too offensive for students to read or deal with.

I remember having a spirited debate with a conservative professor about The Catcher In The Rye. He wanted it banned because it was too heavy for teens to handle. I was amazed he thought this since the book pretty much only appeals to teens

AllenS said...

There was a time when the Professor banned the use of the word nigger and would delete a comment if the word was used. Then a colored guy (can I say that?) showed up and started to comment and use the word often. Suddenly...

write_effort said...

I was listening to a discussion on my local public radio station. No one, not even the moderator, ever said the word. Most callers were against the edition and the editor, Allan Gribben, was quite defensive. I thought the inability of all of these people to even say the word demonstrated the need of the new edition.

AST said...

If hearing "N____ Jim" is the worst thing you suffered in school, you've got no excuses. I was teased about being small for my age, for being "a brain," for my overbite and for being a Mormon from Utah. Everybody has their own problems and it's an unfortunate side-effect of the Civil Rights movement to let minorities feel entitled to more than just being equal.

I had a good friend in high school whose family were Mexican-Americans. We got along fine until he went off to college and turned into a "Chicano" and it was like a curtain descended between us and I could no longer be his friend.

wv: bible

paul a'barge said...

Help me out here ... are African-Americans ever going to get over the "N" word?

I'm guessing not, what with the traction it gets. I mean, in race relations it's all "N" word, all the time.

Black self-appointed leaders even parade in DC and then make up stories about the word's use in front of them. Bald lies.

It's getting really, really boring. And it's getting to the point where I really don't care anymore. At. All.

I don't care if someone uses the word. I don't care if someone conspicuously does not use the word.

And finally, I really don't care about the people who do care. At. All.

edutcher said...

Roger J. said...

Ugh--I butchered the Kipling quote: When I was in Inja's sunny clime where I used to spend me time a serving of her Majesty the Queen..." Apologies to Mr Kipling

I thought it was, "Now in Inja's sunny clime...".

Check your source. You may be right, but the meter sounds off.

Matt said...

AST

You don't seem to understand the Civil Rights movement?

Being teased for being a Mormon with a brain and an overbite is not the same as being held down by the entire legal system because they think you are inferior due to your skin color and heritage. [Still happens in a different context. Many white folks think rap and hip hop is inferior to rock music].

And note Civil Rights didn't make blacks feel entitled to more than just being equal. It gave them a right to be treated equally under the law. Pretty important I would say.

Scott M said...

Many white folks think rap and hip hop is inferior to rock music

Sorry, but "many white folks" describes the largest percentage of purchasers of rap and hip hop. Try another analogy.

Revenant said...

Help me out here ... are African-Americans ever going to get over the "N" word?

When it stops being an insulting term.

Revenant said...

Many white folks think rap and hip hop is inferior to rock music

We're right, too. :)

Almost Ali said...

Talking about him doing bloggingheads with me gets nowhere without that first step.

Cop. Out.

Or, how white of you.

Like Crack is an unknown quantity, a stranger, a menacing shadow, and hardly worthy of such impromptu spontaneity. The very gall! Of him!

Come on, Ann, just do it!

Scott M said...

I like the old challenge; give any famous rock band and any famous rap act 30 days to duplicate, playing their own instruments, the other's biggest hit. Who do you think would win that battle?

What's always amused me is NPR and other referring to rap acts as "bands" or "singers" or their cuts as "songs" because while they are artists in every sense of the word, very, very few rappers are singers or are members of an actual band.

Pogo said...

I enjoy the power I have over black people.

With a single word I destroy, and make men tremble.

It is the weirding way. Beware you lesser races, as next I come for you.

Comrade X said...

In the 1943 classic Sahara when the Nazi pilot sneered the word nigger at Sergeant Major Tambul it wasn't gratuitous, it had significance.

And later in the film when a wounded Sergeant Major Tambul chased down, outfought, and drowned this perfect specimen of the master race face first in sand, that had significance too.

reader_iam said...

Lauryn Hill MTV Teodross Avery on Sax

Oligonicella said...

Hoosier Daddy --

"One of my schoolmates told me a Pollack joke once.

Once."

Well, crap. I was hoping someone would catch that. But, don't worry Johnny, I did.


Perhaps we should have a new and 'improved' Constitution with all the obscure and aged verbiage brought up to date or excised?

And if you want your daily overdose of the word (and its true meaning).

William said...

I read Mrs. Trollope's account of her travels through America in the 1820's. She reported honestly on the harrowing conditions of life in slavery and expressed disapproval. However, what really caused her to get indignant and go all Jeremiah on the Yanks was the American habit of chawing tobacco and then spitting on the floor. Skirts then were floor length. She was left with the unhappy choice of getting spittle in the hem of her garment or raising her skirt above the ankle. This caused her much more misery and anger than the mistreatment of slaves. Is there anything more funny than the bourgeoise when they play at morality?.....Interesting side note: She reports that Irish immigrants were used to dig a canal in malarial Maryland. She asks why slaves were not used to do this dangerous work. They report that the mortality rate among the laborers is too high. A slave works cheaper, but if he dies it's a total capital loss. The Irish work cheap enough and, if they die, you don't even have the expense of burying them. The world sucks.....I'm a child of the lumpenproleteriat, and I have always felt a great affinity for Huck. There's a great divergence between the rules you play by, and the rules that I suffer with. This whole controversy about a damned word is like the Widow Douglass pointing out the proper way to fold a dinner napkin.

Oligonicella said...

"Talking about him doing bloggingheads with me gets nowhere without that first step."

Curious. Did you have to submit a video before you did BH?

Oligonicella said...

Hoosier Daddy --

"One of my schoolmates told me a Pollack joke once.

Once."

Well, crap. I was hoping someone would catch that. But, don't worry Johnny, I did.


Perhaps we should have a new and 'improved' Constitution with all the obscure and aged verbiage brought up to date or excised?

And if you want your daily overdose of the word (and its true meaning).

catondan said...

"I mean, you're point is that white people are pathetic about race,"...

Am I the only one offended by Professor Althouse's use of "you're"?

Fr Martin Fox said...

Blogger Salamandyr said...

Huckleberry Finn is in the public domain. There are, and will continue to be, other editions.

Is it legal to change the text of a book and then offer it as "Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain"? Apart from it being in the public domain, I would think there would other legal problems. Not, I concede, by changing an occasional word; but what about rewriting whole sections? Chapters?

On the presenting question: I think the work should be left alone. A teacher can and should deal with students not handling it well; and if the class isn't mature enough, then the teacher assigns something else.

I recall some years ago Pope John Paul II oversaw the restoration of Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel. And there was, first, a claim that the haze that darkened it was intentional; second, there was some tittering about whether to keep, or remove, the little bits of clothing that were added here and there, by popes after Julius II, to cover up genitalia. The hazy coating was removed, as were the little fig leaves and such, because they weren't what the artist painted.

Twain wrote what he wrote the way he wanted to write it. You don't his writing? Don't read it; don't teach it. As some have pointed out, the choice of this word was part-and-parcel of his artistry.

Revenant said...

Is it legal to change the text of a book and then offer it as "Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain"?

Yes.

Matt said...

Scott M
Note I said 'many' not 'most'. True about hip hop sales to white kids.

Anyway, your analogy about who can produce whose song better shows where you stand. You don't think much of hip hop. However, there is so much cross-over these days between musical styles that it's all one big playng field. It's funny but rap artists get accused of not being able to play instruments. It's absurd really because most do these days - or they are in bands that do. [The Roots, anyone?]

And note Frank Sinatra didn't play any instruments but he didn't get criticized for that fact.

Anyway, back to Huck Finn....

Alex said...

I never understood this business of reading literature aloud in class anyways. Why not just discuss the concepts?

knox said...

The time has come in the US to start rejecting PC, wholesale, not bowing down to it.

And black Americans deserve to be treated as equals. Political Correctness, more than anything else at this point in history, prevents that.

howzerdo said...

It irritates me that anyone would want to mess with Twain's words, also that students are considered so delicate and dense that they could not handle his unaltered works.

Salamandyr (1:21 pm): Usually when someone describes a "banned" book, what they really are referencing is the list of most frequently "challenged" books. The American Library Association complines an annual list of challenged books (although they do not claim to keep track of every instance). "A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness." (http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/21stcenturychallenged/index.cfm)

howzerdo said...

Sorry, "compiles" not "complines." Duh.

Beth said...

revenant, good point. My bumper-sticker summation missed the mark. Since I'd critique any Shakespeare re-staging, any movie version of a novel, any Readers' Digest abridgement, based on its own merits, my critique of this revision stands: it guts the meaning of the novel. It's unnecessary and cowardly.

Bartender Cabbie said...

This falls into the "who cares" category. I suppose instead of Huck the kids can read the Multicultural Tales from the Hood instead.

Bartender Cabbie said...

I might add that my parents would not let me read Playboy and now I am a conniesieur of fine pornography.

Beth said...

In case I need to make this clear, my comments are on Huckleberry Finn, not on every use of the word. I don't think there's a blanket context and my life is no poorer for not using it. I grew up hearing it daily, and make no mistake, there was no dramatic irony involved.

Robert R. said...

"I never understood this business of reading literature aloud in class anyways. Why not just discuss the concepts?"

Because the phrasing of a sentence has aesthetic value in and of itself. What's poetry without the phrasing?

Heck, I think it's vital that plays be read aloud, as they're intended to be heard. One doesn't only discuss the concept of a song in music class, one sings it.

J said...

I find it interesting that some here think it is liberals and leftists who want to censor books. That is not my experience


Yeah the biblethumpers and conservatives are generally the censors--The Grapes of Wrath was censored in many places due to pressure from conservatives (who didn't--spoiler!-- care for the breastfeeding scene at the end). Or DH Lawrence. Many other books. But....the n-word? NO big deal to the usual cracker baptist.

Also amusing is that many of the A-house regz apparently consider Twain/Clemens a conservative when he was quite leftist, even socialist. Twain supported labor and ...praised the French Revolution.

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann,

I, too, consider that a cop out. I bought the camera but, from what I can tell, I have to pay $100 to use with my Mac (Don't ask me how that works, because I don't know, and I wasn't going to pay it if you said no.) All I can tell you, otherwise, is I'd be on my best behavior - wouldn't actively try to diss or embarrass you - just two old friends discussing race, or NewAge, or whatever. On the other hand, the "performance" would be stellar because, I think, we're both talkers and animated thinkers. Anyway, that's my take on it.

I almost bought a video camera over Christmas, but I have to be running version 10.5 to use it, and my old Mac only has 10.4.11 on it. Nuts.

Trooper,

Nobody makes me laugh like you do, and I mean really laugh!

AllenS,

Yep. Funny how that worked, isn't it? Actually, I'm happy to have won that one. It was silly.

ScottM,

I like the old challenge; give any famous rock band and any famous rap act 30 days to duplicate, playing their own instruments, the other's biggest hit. Who do you think would win that battle?

The rappers. Their "instruments" are vocals, the turntable, the record collections, and their knowledge of music - they can wipe the floor with anyone simply concerned with (and/or hemmed in by) theory. Think of it this way: every rapper out there has to write 10 times the number of lyrics to make a song as the average recording artist, and their sense of meter has to be wicked crazy - something the average rock artist barely even considers important. There's just no comparison.

Rap was a major advancement in music.

Pogo,

Spank me, baby!

Matt,

Note Frank Sinatra didn't play any instruments but he didn't get criticized for that fact.

Double standards always permeate the criticisms of Rap.

Revenant said...

"Note Frank Sinatra didn't play any instruments but he didn't get criticized for that fact."

Double standards always permeate the criticisms of Rap.

What double standard? The complaint was about calling rappers "singers". Pointing out that Sinatra didn't play any instruments is irrelevant. He sang, ergo he's a singer. Most rappers aren't; they recite.

That being said, not all rock music involves singing either. AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and Commander Cody's "Hot Rod Lincoln", for example, are recited rather than sung. Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" is a borderline case, which is why it worked so well when Run DMC covered it.

The other reason people deny rap is music is that it seldom has melody; this is unusual for western music.

Revenant said...

I find it interesting that some here think it is liberals and leftists who want to censor books.

It isn't JUST leftists who want to censor books, but there is a long history of left-wing censorship. Hell, Al Gore and his nut of a wife pushed for censorship not just of music, but of books and role-playing games, too.

Michael said...

Where, oh where, are the protectors of Indians? Injun. Injun. Injun. Scalp me.

Michael said...

"I find it interesting that some here think it is liberals and leftists who want to censor books."

All those Republican speech codes in colleges across our fair land. All those Republicans at the NYT refusing to publish the Mohammed cartoons. The Yale University press publishing a book on the cartoons without actually publishing the cartoons themselves. The left is intent on shutting down talk radio. The left is happy to burn and throw away campus newspapers with offending editorials or articles. The left is delighted to shout down and prohibit conservatives from speaking.

No question that lefties are very very happy to trot out lies like that quoted above and to dig not too deeply into their own behavior.

murgatroyd666 said...

I'm surprised people are asking whether Twain would approve of the substitution of "slave" for a word that offended some people. We know exactly how he felt about the matter:

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."


wv: trushor -- Trushor conshequenshes?

Fred Drinkwater said...

Perhaps some extracts from Ray Bradbury's essay "More Than One Way to Burn a Book" (October 1977) would be interesting here:

[ After describing various requests to "adjust" his stories, and instances where they had been adjusted without permission ]

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-Day Adventist, Women's Lib / Republican, Mattachine / Four Square Gospel, feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel 'Fahrenheit 451', described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.

...

In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will nopt go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.

Richard Fagin said...

They changed the word "cunt" to "bitch" in "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1981), and "'faggoty' white outfit" to "girly" in "A Few Good Men"(1992), if you want two examples of censorship of more recent work.

While there are good historical reasons to excise the "n" word from writings and movies, I suspect there's more going on here than mere sensitivity. White people are becoming pathetic about more than race.

Beth said...

Epithet makes me think of epithelials.

chickelit said...

Epithet makes me think of epithelials

How cheeky of you. :)

Revenant said...

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."

People who keep throwing that quote around don't get that both the literal and the emotional meaning of words changes over time. The right word for an 1885 audience isn't necessarily the right word for a 2010 audience.

In 2010, constant use of the n-word by a white character is how lazy writers signal that the character is overtly racist and therefore either deeply ignorant or actually evil. In 1885, it wasn't. It was a vulgar term, but one which didn't automatically indicate that the user was any more racist than a person who said "Negro". That's why, even after Huck Finn has his big revelation that Jim is as good a person as himself, he still keeps using that word in reference to Jim. To a modern reader that just seems bizarre -- like reading a long story about a misogynist's road to redemption only to have him unironically referring to women as "c**ts" throughout the last chapters of the book. I don't think Twain intended Huck's transformation to be one from pro-slavery racist to anti-slavery racist, but that's what it comes across as to a modern ear.

William said...

It should be noted that Twain had a rather prissy wife and submitted to her censorship of his words....A few years back I re-read Oliver Twist. This book is in ill repute because of the anti-semitic characterization of Fagin. If you read the book, the arch villain is not Fagin, but Monk. Fagin is but a catspaw for Monk. Monk was educated in Rome and is a shadowy, Guy Fawkes character. The paranoia that Dickens expresses is not towards the Jews but towards the Church of Rome and its sinister Jesuit agents. No one nowadays even notices the anti Catholicism.......Some biases are more biased than other biases. In a Connecticut Yankee, Twain advocates genocide against the knightly class. As one of nature's aristocrats, I feel that this book should be banned.

Scott M said...

I'm going to assume you misunderstood the statement, Crack. In the challenge, the rap act would have to take up the instruments of the rock band and try to duplicate the rock band's music while the rock band had to do the same with the rapper's.

Fine. If you want to call vocals "instruments", I'll play. The rap act would still be required to learn guitar, drums, bass, keyboards (if applicable) while the rock band would just have to match the meter and attempt to come as close as possible to the diction used.

Still think the rappers would do a more true reproduction?

Scott M said...

Anyway, your analogy about who can produce whose song better shows where you stand. You don't think much of hip hop.

Bullshit. If you'd have seen me in the early 90's, you wouldn't bother entertaining that notion. In the dance clubs three nights a week. Recording videos to match dance moves and, yes, horizontal lines cut into the doo a la Hammer. This is, of course, before Hammer was a full-on joke, but it doesn't matter.

I listened to more hip-hop through the late 80's and 90's than anything else. I didn't leave hip hop. Hip hop left me.

You have no idea what you're talking about, btw.

Beth said...

Revenant - all of that would make for a rich classroom discussion, and entirely appropriate for high school students. Let students grapple with the text itself, the context of the text, the context of reading the text now, and so on.

Revenant said...

Beth, that would make for an excellent classroom discussion... in history class. :)

Beth said...

Revenant, lit class IS history class, isn't it?

MayBee said...

I do not believe in hiding things from children and I resent that the Liberals want to treat us all like children who can handle difficult concepts or unpleasant realities.

This.

You know, the word itself has always been bad but it seems to me it is gaining more and more power. Is there any other word that has become almost unutterable?

Why does it have this power? Why is it important to give a word this power?

David said...

Placing the word "nigger" in a Google Books search of 19th and 20th century items beings almost one million hits. One of the first is Horace Greeley's book "Come Up, Aunt Sally, or the Nigger's Sale."

Greeley, a leading abolitionist, described the 1859 sale of the slaves of Pierce Butler, who needed cash to pay his extensive debts, and inherited a 50% interest in nearly a thousand slaves upon his father's death. Here are the opening paragraphs of that book:

The largest sale of human chattels that has been made in star-spangled America for several years took place on Wednesday and Thursday, March 2 and 3, 1859) at the race-course, near the city of Savannah, Georgia.
The lot consisted of 436 men, women, children, and infants, being that half of the negro stock remaining on the old Major Butler plantations, which fell to one of the two heirs to that estate. Major Butler dying, left a property valued at more than a million of dollars, the major part of which was invested in rice and cotton plantations, and the slaves thereon, all of which immense fortune descended to two heirs, his sons—Mr. John A. Butler, some time deceased, and Mr. Pierce M. Butler, still living, and resident in the city of Philadelphia, in the Pree State of Pennsylvania.
Losses in the grand crash of 1857-8, and other exigencies of business, have compelled the latter gentleman to realize on his Southern investments, that he may satisfy his pressing creditors. This necessity led to a partition of the negro stock on the Georgia plantations between himself and the representative of the other heir, the widow of the late John A. Butler, and the negroes that were brought to the hammer last week were the property of Mr. Pierce M. Butler, of Philadelphia, and were, in fact, sold to pay Mr. Pierce M. Butler's debts.


We should not fear our history, no matter how terrible it is.

Sixty Grit said...

Roger Ebert knows the proper word to use.

WV: efibis - to imerologio mias efibis.

The Crack Emcee said...

ScottM,

The rap act would still be required to learn guitar, drums, bass, keyboards (if applicable) while the rock band would just have to match the meter and attempt to come as close as possible to the diction used.

Still think the rappers would do a more true reproduction?


Like Matt said, if it's The Roots, I'd dare almost any rock band to step on stage with them. As far as other rap groups are concerned, you'd be surprised how many have massive musical talent. Remember "Humpty-Hump"? That's my boy, Shock G. He slept on my couch before he hit. (The group I was with found success before his did.) He not only introduced the world to Tupac, but is a fine keyboardist, as you can hear on the track that introduced the world to Tupac.

I'm telling you Scott, Rap is full of surprises - starting with it's own massive success.

Nora said...

Well, I feel very uncomfortable every time I hear about slavery and whites guilt about that. First of all, it's historically incorrect (slavery still florish in Africa, but I don't see liberal guilt machine doing much about ending it, because they don't see political capital in it IMO), second, I'm not even born in this country (AFAIK, the precentage of Americans whose ancestors had slaves is very low as well, so there is no good reason for me ot them to feel guilty about this chapter of history, unless brainwashed into guilt-trip), and third, in my native language (I suspect in few others as well) it's 'black' that is an offensive term for a black African, so it shows the pre-occupation with the PC terminology for Americans of African origin (and for much everything else) for the device to sensor, and consequently dumb, which is limiting of vocabulary does, a thought.

Revenant said...

Revenant, lit class IS history class, isn't it?

I'd say that's a big "no". Lit class is about appreciating an art form, not about acquiring knowledge about the past.

Huckleberry Finn is useful for teaching history... specifically, the history of 1885, when it was published. It is no more useful for teaching about the prewar South than "Gone with the Wind" is. Either read a couple of excerpts, to help understand how white liberals of the late 19th century thought about black people -- or read the whole thing, for its story, themes, characters, and moral. Reading it as a means of learning history is like getting your news from The Daily Show.

Beth said...

Revenant, understanding the historical context of a work is one of many approaches to critiquing literature. There's no one art form to literature - there are periods and movements, and forms respond to any number of factors. History's a great tool in the literature classroom. So is philosophy, and political science, the physical sciences, religion and metaphysics. Art for art's sake is a legitimate approach as well, but I'd have a hard time explaining it to students without referencing Pater and the Victorians and movements to which it is a reaction.

Beth said...

I think we're talking at cross purposes. I don't teach history, I teach literature. I use history in that pursuit. I find that I have to fill in more and more in that regard, the longer I teach. I have to wonder how much history students are getting in high school. Similarly, current students don't seem to be well-versed in religious allusions. I find myself having to unpack those when I teach anything written before WW II.

Penny said...

Quibbling!

We need a whole lot more...

Hagar said...

Revenant, if you want to know how white Liberal thought developed through the 20th century, I can't think of a better way than to read Rex Stout's detective novels - all of them, from Fer-de-Lance to A Family Affair and Death Times Three.
That is a journey through the real thing, not just an overview by some "historian" pushing the currently fashionable line(s).

E.M. Davis said...

In related news, there's this.

ken in sc said...

I had a 6th grade student who was offended that the Niger river was on a map in my social studies classroom.

kent said...

Harvard University Law Professor Randall Kennedy, the author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, called the change a “profound mistake” and compared it to painting fig leafs on nude statues. Kennedy pointed out that since teenagers hear the word often so in today’s music and movies its “a good discussion to have.”

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I had a 6th grade student who was offended that the Niger river was on a map in my social studies classroom.


Hoo boy...wait until he hears about Black Holes or Devil's Food Cake.

kent said...

Hoo boy...wait until he hears about Black Holes

Dallas county official: “Black hole” is racist!

You were saying...? ;)

The Crack Emcee said...

About that massive success:

SoundScan's year-end report doesn't specify which artists are tagged "alternative" versus "rock," but the news wasn't good for either, so it doesn't really matter. Sales of rock albums dropped 15%, and sales of alternative albums dipped 21%. In fact, there's nothing even resembling a rock 'n' roll artist on the final top-10 tally of the bestselling physical CDs (and don't tell me Justin Bieber resembles a rock artist). The only genre to see an increase in sales was rap, and that no doubt has something to do with Eminem's "Recovery" being the year's top-selling album (3.4 million).